Friends, family gather to mark one year since Monroe teen's death


MONROE, N.C. - Exactly one year ago Phylicia Barnes disappeared while visiting relatives in Baltimore. Her body was pulled from a Maryland river nearly four months later.

Barnes’ family and classmates gathered Wednesday at Union Academy in Monroe where they found a special way to keep the teen’s memory alive at the campus.

Janis Sallis-Mustafa, Barnes’ mother, said she was thankful for the memorial the students dedicated to her daughter.

“I am very grateful for all of the things union Academy has done for me and my family and the love that they had and have for Phylicia,” she said.

Sallis-Mustafa stood beside Barnes’ stepfather and aunt, who made the trip from Georgia to the school for the ceremony.

The memorial sits in the school’s courtyard and includes a bench. As its senior gift, the Class of 2011 purchased a granite marker in memory of Barnes. It shows her smiling face surrounded by the words “Faith, Hope, Love.”

A weeping cherry tree was also planted at the site that will bloom purple flowers, Barnes’ favorite color.

At the end of the ceremony, the group released dozens of balloons.

“It made my heart sing and bleed at the same time,” Sallis-Mustafa said. “It made my heart sing because they really cared enough about her to do something like that and all of the hard work that they put into it. But it bleeds because it reminds me of the tragedy all over again.”

So far, there have been no arrests in Barnes’ murder, but her mother said she stands behind the work of the investigators.

“I am very pleased with the progress that they have thus far,” she said.

The Guardian Angels, a Maryland group that helped in the search for Barnes, attended the memorials in Monroe and Baltimore.